NASA to repair Artemis 1 moon rocket’s hydrogen connector on launch pad – Spaceflight Now

NASA to repair Artemis 1 moon rocket's hydrogen connector on launch pad - Spaceflight Now

NASA’s Artemis 1 moon rocket on its launch pad at Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Walter Scriptunas II / Spaceflight Now

Technicians at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center will repair a leak in a liquid hydrogen supply line to the Artemis 1 moon rocket on the launch pad instead of inside the vehicle assembly building, a decision according to the ‘agency that will allow the teams to test the repair in cryogenic conditions.

NASA’s launch team on Saturday detected a leak in a quick-disconnect connector on an 8-inch liquid hydrogen line during a launch attempt, forcing managers to halt the countdown. The leak was in a similar location, but more significant than the hydrogen leaks found during the previous tanks of the huge Space Launch System lunar rocket.

Ground crews at Launch Complex 39B will replace the seal on the quick-disconnect interface where the mobile launch pad’s liquid hydrogen feed line connects to a hydrogen line on the Space Launch System’s center stage .

Technicians will erect an environmental enclosure around the work area on the umbilical tail service mast, gray casings that attach to the deck of the mobile launch pad to feed liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen to the rocket. The tent will protect sensitive components in the umbilical area from weather and pollution.

NASA officials said after Saturday’s clean launch attempt that they were considering options to repair the hydrogen leak on the pad or inside the vehicle assembly building, which would require the rocket to he drove the 4.2 miles (6.8 kilometers) to the hangar. a crawler transporter with a diesel engine. An advantage of repairing the leak in the bearing is that the launch team will be able to confirm the tightness of the umbilical seal in cryogenic conditions.

Teams will flow super-cold liquid hydrogen, cooled to minus 423 degrees Fahrenheit, through the umbilical line to see if it still leaks. The shape and size of seals and gaskets can change when exposed to super cold temperatures, creating a leak path that was undetectable at room temperature. A liquid hydrogen molecule, created by joining two hydrogen atoms, is one of the smallest known in the universe and filters through gaps impermeable to other molecules.

The center stage of the SLS moon rocket contains 537,000 liters of liquid hydrogen fuel and 196,000 liters of super-cold liquid oxygen as an oxidizer. The same thrusters power the SLS upper stage, with much smaller tanks.

The tail service umbilical mast is located on the deck of the SLS mobile launcher, connecting to the base of the rocket’s center stage. Credit: NASA/Spaceflight Now

NASA said ground crews at pad 39B will check the plate covers of other umbilical interfaces to make sure there are no other leaks. “With seven main umbilical lines, each line can have multiple connection points,” NASA said in an update released Tuesday afternoon.

Even with the repair of leaks on the launch pad, the 322-foot-tall (98-meter) lunar rocket will still have to return to the vehicle assembly building. US Space Force Eastern Range, responsible for public safety for all launches from Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, has certified the lunar rocket’s flight termination system batteries during 25 days, a life cycle that expires this week.

NASA is expected to ask the agency to extend certification of the flight termination system batteries, which would destroy the SLS moon rocket if it veered off course and threatened populated areas during launch. The Space Force has already agreed to a 20- to 25-day extension, allowing Artemis 1 launch attempts on all possible dates in the mission’s previous launch period, which ended Tuesday.

If the Eastern Range does not accept another extension, NASA will have to reset and retest the flight termination system. This work must be done inside the vehicle assembly building.

A VAB setback would delay the Artemis 1 launch until at least mid-October, but NASA could be in position for another launch attempt later this month if the moon rocket remains on pad 39B . The next release period opens on September 19th and runs through October 4th, followed by another series of release dates from October 17th to October 31st.

Work platforms have been installed around the tail service mast umbilical unit at the base of the Space Launch System moon rocket to facilitate the repair of a leaking hydrogen connector. Credit: Michael Cain / Spaceflight Now / Coldlife Photography

The Artemis 1 mission will mark the first test flight of the SLS moon rocket, the most powerful launcher ever to lift off from American soil. Its four main engines and two solid rocket boosters are leftover designs from the Space Shuttle program. The engines and thrusters will generate 8.8 million pounds of thrust at launch, about 15 percent more power than the Apollo program’s Saturn 5 moon rocket.

The Space Launch System will send a human-qualified Orion crew capsule on an unmanned cruise around the moon. The Orion spacecraft will fly just 60 miles (100 kilometers) from the lunar surface and spin into a distant retrograde orbit, then ignite its engines to begin a return course to Earth, culminating in a parachute-assisted splashdown at the Pacific Ocean off the coast. from San Diego.

If successful, the test flight will pave the way for four astronauts to strap into the Orion capsule on the Artemis 2 moon flyby mission, currently scheduled for launch in 2024. Future Artemis missions will include landers commercial moons to transport astronauts to the surface of the moon.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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